Another response to my Christian friend's inquiries

Her email:

So, I don't know much about atheist forums....are they sort of like church only without the supernatural diety? I know what you mean about scripted questions/answers though....not so much with religious discussions but definitely with political conversations. I, myself, really love and value critical thinking. That is one of the reasons I am enjoying this e-discussion. You think things through and you don't get offended. I love to talk to people about philosophical matters (religion, politics, the meaning of life) but most people really can't do it unless they at least mostly agree with each other. People get really bothered by differences of viewpoints. Then sometimes they actually get nasty and use stereotyping and the whole things devolves into soundbites. Then I head for the hills! Some people like that sort of confrontational conversation, but I find it to be demeaning to everyone involved so I usually tiptoe away....

Ok....purpose and meaning. Well, I see your points about the existential value of the here and now in life whether it be the awe of existence, nature, or love of family. I also find purpose and meaning in those things. It just loses its meaning when death enters the picture. Yes, there is value in beauty in the moment, but what does that actually mean if it is only a breath or a vapor that has no lasting purpose? 

I do also understand that evolution hard wires caring for our offspring, but how does that explain compassion for others? My understanding of evolution is that the strongest and most aggressive survive and the weaker die/evolve away. So where does compassion come from? Especially when it requires a sacrifice of self?

I'd love to hear more about what it is about Jesus or His teachings that you like. To me, much of His teachings really contradict survival of self. His example was to die for others...acutally those who were against Him. That definitely doesn't fit with natural selection. LOL Also, if I were you, I wouldn't trust Him, if He is a liar....He did say He was/is the Son of God! I can trust Him, because I believe Him! I can't quite see the logic of believing in Jesus as a good teacher...good teachers don't lie. : 

My response:

Well, I hope I have a better week than I did last week.  Did you know my dad died last Tuesday? It's been a weird, sad week. : ( Responding to this will most likely help me somehow, so here goes.

I don't know what else to say about my dad and your question about purpose and meaning except that the here and now becomes even more precious to me, given my non-belief in Heaven and an eternal life with any deity. I know I can't say it doesn't happen with any kind of conviction. I just don't believe it does. 

My father's ashes will go into the Atlantic Ocean, and his chemicals will return to the Earth and the cosmos from which they came. In that way, I believe he is indeed eternal. He will live on in my and my descendants' DNA, and in his participation in who we are as people. 

As far as evolution, your understanding of it is not quite representative of how it really works. I have been studying it just for this very reason. I want to have a thorough grasp on it so I can explain it when necessary. (I imagine you feel the same way about the Bible, although belief in the facts of the scientific theory of evolution is not equitable with spiritual faith, in my opinion.)

It is not necessarily the strongest and/or most aggressive organisms that survive. The random mutations that arise through the process of reproduction create structures and/or traits which allow some organisms to survive and reproduce better than others, thereby increasing the number of organisms with that same mutation over time. If any particular mutation allows an organism to better adapt to it's environment and thereby survive, the mutation is seen as making the organism more well suited to survive. "Survival of the fittest" is misleading. It is really more like "survival of the best suited to survive and reproduce." This is natural selection, and it is the main mechanism of the process of evolution.

I have read some about social evolution, which is, of course, an extremely complicated area of study about which I know a small fraction. Social organisms, like ants, wolves, people, etc., can also evolve traits that optimize survival of the social unit and therefore, offspring. Compassion for others can fall under this category. If I have compassion for you and I give you food, you might live to participate in the next group hunt which will enable my offspring to eat (and live). That's a hypothetical example which illustrates my understanding of how this is theorized to work.

I suppose compassion in general comes from our gigantic brains and complex social structures, on top of what's hard-wired into us. That is a very oversimplified answer, but I really have no idea where compassion comes from . I do know we have it, even if we don't believe in a deity. I have it. I have so much of it that it is crippling at times. I don't think there has to be a deity to give it to us, and I don't think that not knowing where it comes from proves it must have some divine origin. I basically think the same thing about all of existence, for that matter.

And about Jesus.... hmmm. I think that some of what is attributed to Jesus makes good sense. Whether or not he ever existed or was divine doesn't change the thought that, for example, forgiveness is good for one's psyche, especially forgiving an enemy. That is powerful information to enable people to live well and to be well. To be full of hate poisons us. 

The same principle applies to other virtues as well, such as love, patience, kindness, understanding, etc. They are all good things to have a lot of in our lives. It makes us happier, and less, well, screwed-up.

It is true that I don't trust Jesus. I can see that there is some virtue in the Bible, more so in the New Testament vs the Old Testament. That doesn't make it, or Jesus, trustworthy in my mind. There is wisdom in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and yet it is clearly a work of fiction written my a mere man. 

My problem isn't particularly with Jesus - it's mostly with the Bible itself. I think it is, at best, a work of historical fiction. Logically, then, I cannot believe that Jesus is real any more than I can believe L. Ron Hubbard's assertion that we are being haunted by souls of ancient murder victims and must give our lives to the Church of Scientology to rid ourselves of them. It doesn't matter if I think Jesus was a good teacher, or lying, or a practical joker, or a magician. How can I "trust" someone I thoroughly believe to be fictional? I can make use of the good information, surely, but that's it as far as I'm concerned. That being said, I think the concept of Jesus can be helpful for people as they live their lives. That's a good thing. I get that. 

So I really have no opinion of whatever Jesus did as far as sacrificing himself for others because I don't believe the stories about it. There may indeed have been a wise, charismatic teacher named Jesus who thought he died for all of mankind, but that does not make it so. Not for me, anyway. I understand that many people wholeheartedly believe Jesus died for our sins and was the son of God. If that is helpful for them, I would never want to erode that belief. I just don't believe it.

I wish that more people who do believe it would just let me go on my merry, non-believing way. People's actions speak very much louder than their words in this regard. I appreciate being able to discuss this, because not believing in a god, especially Jesus, is very important to me. LOL, really. I am actually laughing out loud at that one. 

Have a good one!

Views: 93

Comment by James on January 2, 2012 at 4:35pm

Great response!

Comment by Ron V on January 2, 2012 at 7:38pm

Nice response!

Comment by Dylan Sloboda on January 3, 2012 at 12:26am

The ants were a great example for illustrating the importance of social evolution. In the christian paradigm, animals are supposed to be ignorant of right and wrong, yet here is a creature that acts in the best interest of its community without any knowledge of christianity and supposedly without a sense of right and wrong to guide its behavior.

Comment by Diane on January 3, 2012 at 9:32am

Thanks!  I wish I had pointed it out.  Maybe I'll find some way to work it onto the next volley.  This woman really is my friend, and it will be interesting to see how this goes.  I'm sure she's still trying to convert me, as she has been for 7 years.  If anything, I become ever more clear on where I stand.  

Comment by Matthew on January 3, 2012 at 11:57am

You should have pointed out that jesus DID lie, in one of the books, i cant remember the verse but he said that if you pray it WILL happen, If you pray for the mountain to be tossed into the ocean, it WILL happen. He doesnt say "well, my dad will consider it, and if he likes the idea, he'll do it, but he mostly refuses."

Comment by Diane on January 5, 2012 at 6:59am

He's a liar!  I knew it!  The really odd thing is that this particular friend, whom I clinically supervised for several years, is often boasting to me and others how smart I am, but then she goes and presents nonsense arguments to me.  As if somehow I'm suddenly going to say, "Oh right!  That makes sense now.  I'll just stop thinking critically and go along."  



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